Monday, April 09, 2012

BRoP Interview with Alma Alexander

Today I have the honor of hosting author Alma Alexander as part of the BRoP moveable interview. You can find the first three parts here, here, and here; the final part will post tomorrow here. Alma is going to discuss her current work on my blog.

Tell us about your new book and when it is out. Where can people purchase it?

Eh, which one…? Okay. Two current projects, out now. The first is the new novel, “2012: Midnight at Spanish Gardens” and it’s out as both an ebook in most common formats (at Smashwords and as Amazon) and as a paperback. The second is my first tilt at the editorial windmills, an anthology named “River”, a collection of thirteen stories by the likes of Jay Lake, Seanan McGuire, Brenda Cooper, Nisi Shawl, Irene Radford, and more fabulous writers. On the drawing board right now – awaiting final edits before it is (initially) released as an ebook, with a paperback edition to follow: “Embers of Heaven”, a follow-up to my published-in-14-languages Blessed Book “The Secrets of Jin-shei.” “Embers” had a UK edition but has not been published in the USA before, so this is exciting. Coming really soon now, as soon as I get the edits done. Also on the drawing board, the first volume of a projected duology concluding the story told in my YA Worldweavers series – the final growing up of Thea Winthrop, more fun and games with Nikola Tesla and Corey the Trickster from Native American mythology. This – this is a good book. Can’t wait to see it out there. And I also have a new YA series looking for a home.

Is there anything new, unusual, or interesting about your book? How is it different from other books on the same subject?

For the two current projects, then. In “2012: Midnight at Spanish Gardens,” five friends meet in a café called Spanish Gardens two decades after they used to frequent the place back in college. Here’s the thing – there are a lot of secrets out there, and Spanish Gardens… was always special. It’s a place where only truth can be spoken, more so on this night than ever, because it’s December 20, 2012, the prophesied Mayan Apocalypse, the end of the world. And in this place, in this hour, the five who return here with all their lost dreams and their secrets are given a choice. They are allowed a do-over – a chance at a different life – and then, at a crucial point, they are to make a choice about which life they want to keep, the one they have re-created for themselves with the different choices they have made, or the one they had turned their back on. Four of them choose to return to their old lives. One… does not. This is a book about choices and about truth and about asking questions, what matters to you, what hills in your life would you die for, what’s important, what’s REALLY important.

So far the people who have read the book have been moved, almost to a reader, to ask those ‘what if’ questions when it comes to their own lives. It’s been a revelation to me to watch this. It’s an amazing gift to be able to offer to the readers, through the stories of the five protagonists in this book, this same choice, as it were, even if I can’t go the whole way and let them re-live moments they wish they had a chance to change. Just asking the questions can be an immensely liberating experience, can face you with things that you haven’t thought about for years, that are maybe tough to think about. This is not entirely a COMFORTABLE book, but it’s a powerful one, or at least I like to think it goes a long way towards that. And here’s the thing – Spanish Gardens, the café, was real – long gone, now, but real, and a place where I myself used to go back when I was young. And yes, I found myself asking those same questions as I wrote this book. But you’ll have to come back and give me some of your answers before I give you mine, even if you weren’t able to glean them through the story that I wrote.

The second book, the anthology, “River” – well, the conceit was, there is, and always was, only one River and on its banks every story ever told can be found. There is a part of you that would recognize the Mississippi or the Amazon or the Rhine or the Thames, even if it was the first time you’d ever set eyes on THAT particular river, if ever you had known and loved a river of your own. My river is the Danube, and I love it with a fierce love – it is that particular river that inspired ME. For my contributors, the river might be the Columbia, or a creek in Cyprus, or the ancient river that flows between the quays of Prague, or something quite different, quite their own – but they recognize each other’s rivers, anyway. This collection is unique in that it doesn’t have a table of contents. It has a MAP of contents. And every story is placed on that map according to where it fell on the River’s journey. Oh, this is a child of my heart, and it is quite, quite wonderful. Go forth and find it and read it, and, as I offer in the introduction of the book, have a blessing with it: may the rivers you cross always know your name.

What was the hardest part of writing this book?

As I said before, fantasy is my first love, my joy. Building my own worlds has always been a part of that, sailing under my own winds, making my own rules, looking out of windows and seeing only the things that I have made real with my mind and my imagination. Some people may find that daunting – I never have. What frightens me is… mundania. I am frankly not sure of how interested a reader might be in reading about a world that is familiar and which lies within their own purview to touch, see, hear, empirically confirm the existence of. You see, this world already HAS rules, and they are familiar ones to all of us, and writing scenes that are “real”, that set in the “real world” as we know it, scare me because they can be entirely too real – and thus endlessly boring to a reader who has already lived them or is living them right now and why on earth would they waste valuable reading time on my reimagination of a reality which is theirs to sample as soon as they put my book down and speak to another living person in the room with them. Reality is balanced on a knife edge for me – render it with complete truth and verisimilitude and the reader won’t follow you into waters already depressingly familiar (why on EARTH should they?!) Take it too far away from that truth, and you’re sailing into fantasy waters again.

“2012: Midnight at Spanish Gardens” was… a place where the veil between the worlds was thin enough for the fantasy to be glimpsed through it, but which was still, for the most part, anchored in what passed for our own everyday reality. This is the most grounded fantasy I have ever written, it was well out of my comfort zone, and parts of it scared me to death. But writing is about exploration, and I needed new worlds. It was hard to do, this, but now it is done and I know I can do it. I have been stretched. And somehow in the process of rendering the commonplace and the ordinary through just the most basic of fantastical prisms I think that have still managed to convey the very real magic that Spanish Gardens – the TRUE Spanish Gardens – once held for me. And if I have done this… if I have succeeded in this… then I have conquered my own fears, and I’ve gained an important victory, as a writer, as a human being. This is a hugely important book for me, and I would like to think that its subject matter and its ideas and its issues would make it an important book – in different ways – to its readers, too.

What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?

Its episodic nature – five intertwined stories – gave me a lot of scope. There are bits from every one of the characters’ lives that I loved writing. I ached for Simon as a child, and for his loss, and I adored his staunch and loving grandmother. The tale of Quincy and the chances she took for love stirred my passions, and it was a wonderful story to tell. John and his relationship with his young patients broke my heart. Ellen’s humanity – her vulnerability, her jealousy, her pride, her joys and her sorrows – her very limitations, and her overcoming of them – made her a terrific character to write about. And Olivia – oh, Olivia – there was so much in her that I dug out from deep inside myself. There were moments in every one of those stories that made me either tear up, or laugh out loud, while I was writing them. I truly hope that some of the absolute joy of the writing of this book shines through for its readers.

Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?

I learned that we are all human, that we all rise or fall as human beings, that choices are important but perhaps not immutable. And that this was a lesson peculiarly suited for fiction to teach.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

In general, I do not write books with “messages” in them. If there are any, they are for the readers to find and decipher, asking the questions that each individual reader will bring with them to the book. In fact, I would absolutely love to hear back from those readers, about the messages they thought they found within these pages. My only message is simply to take responsibility for your choices – to be happy – and, in the end, inasmuch as that is within your power, to maximize your joy and minimize your regrets. If there is a message, it's simple: Live your life, and make it the kind of life that nobody but you could live. Own your existence. Don’t strive to be anything other than… you. And it’s entirely up to you how long it takes you to come up with the meaning of that idea, or where you look for it.


Alma Alexander was born in Yugoslavia, grew up in Africa, and went to school in Wales. She has lived in several countries on four continents, and is quite comfortable in the new continent of cyberspace. She was living in New Zealand when she met a man on an Internet bulletin board for writers, married him and moved to America.

She now lives with her husband and two cats in the Pacific Northwest, in the city of Bellingham (directions to her home include the phrase "Aim for Canada and just before you get there, turn right"). Her office looks out onto cedar woods, and she has frequently been known to babysit young deer left just outside her door while their mothers vanish off on some urgent deer errand.



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